The Hunger Games (2012)

The Hunger Games (2012) – So this movie made a metric fuckton of money, so a couple weeks into its box-office-record-setting run I’m not sure my opinion actually counts for anything. I offer it anyway because… it’s what I do. I’ve been seeing a lot about The Hunger Games in the past several weeks. My favorite tweet was “it tells you all you need to know about Twilight that Katniss Everdeen kills children and is still a better role model than Bella Swan.” The other thing I’ve heard a lot about is how much of a rip-off of the Japanese book/movie Battle Royale the whole thing is. Since Battle Royale never had a proper theatrical release in the United States and wasn’t even legally available for domestic DVD/Blu Ray purchase until a few weeks ago, understandably few Americans have even seen it. I saw a bootleg a couple years ago and aside from the performances of Beat Takeshi and Chiaki Kuriyama, the latter of whom I had an odd crush on after seeing Kill Bill Vol. 1 (*sigh* why do I always go for the girls who would probably kill me?), I don’t remember all that much of it. Originality can be over-rated. Maybe The Hunger Games leaves more of an impression?

Well my typical summary paragraph is also somewhat perfunctory since everyone known what this movie is about, but as I said it’s just what I do… So there is a country called Panem (I swear to God it sounded like PanAm when they said it in the movie) and way back when there was an uprising that the totalitarian government eventually put down. The President (Donald Sutherland) made a contest that divided the rebel lands into 12 districts and made each volunteer two 12-18-year-old for a battle royale fight to the death every year. District 12 is a rural coal-mining district and as heroine Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence does a lot of the same caring for her mother (Paula Malcomson) and younger sister (Willow Shields) and squirrel-eating that she did in her Oscar-nominated role in Winter’s Bone. After Primrose, the younger sister, gets selected for the Hunger Games Katniss volunteers to go in her stead. The other “tribute” is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son who always had a crush on Katniss (even though she has a boyfriend played by Liam Hemsworth).

About an hour of the movie takes place before the competition even starts. There’s a rather long section of expository training stuff. Katniss and Peeta are instructed by a woman whose name is never mentioned in the movie but Wikipedia tells me is Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks in what looks like a fluorescent spin on 18th century French nobility attire) and former Games winner Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). They are styled by a dude named Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and there’s a lot of talk about how impressing sponsors into giving you stuff is the key to winning the Games. Wes Bentley in a weird fire-shaped beard-thing plays the director of the Games and Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones (the latter barely in it at all) are the broadcasters who cover them. Most of the other competetors aren’t defined beyond one or two traits. There’s the stoic Thresh (Dayo Okeniyi), the crafty “Foxface” (Jacqueline Emerson), sociopathic quartet Kato (Alexander Ludwig), Clove (Isabelle Fuhrman), Marvel (Jack Quaid), and Glimmer (Leven Rambin). The only other competitor allowed to be a character is a young girl named Rue (Amandla Stenberg, who kicked off a minor controversy among racists who didn’t realize her character was black in the book). Pretty much everyone else doesn’t last long enough to make an impression.

I was worried from the excessive amount of time spent with the training and exposition that this movie wouldn’t conclude with the end of the Games and that it would stretched out over the two inevitable sequels. I was thankfully wrong about that, as I’m sure anyone who read Suzanne Collins’ massively successful young adult novels was already aware. I myself have never read them so I didn’t know what to expect. All in all, I enjoyed the movie. Director Gary Ross previously made Pleasantville, one of my favorite films of the late 90s. Now that he’s done this giant hit, and if he returns for the sure-to-be-a-big-hit-as-well sequel he may finally have the juice to get that Creature from the Black Lagoon remake he’s been pushing for finally made… (You didn’t think I was going to drop the Universal Monsters thing totally, did you?) One thing I’m stoked about is that this film will make a star out of Jennifer Lawrence. Hopefully she uses the increased profile to continue doing great work like she did in Winter’s Bone. Downside? The X-Men: First Class sequel was delayed so she could be free for Catching Fire, the sequel to this movie. I guess X-Men has been popular for a decade as a film franchise and much longer as a comic, while this whole thing could presumably blow over.

A lot of time is spent on exposition as I’ve said a couple times now, but I can understand the impulse. The Hunger Games seems preoccupied with world-building. If there are to be two sequels, I imagine that’s necessary. The Games are over so whatever else happens probably happens in the world at large, right? I don’t know. The movie feels thin at times and goes on way too long. There are similarities to both Battle Royale and the Stephen King novel and Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Running Man, but the trappings are different enough to make it a different viewing experience. There is an undercurrent of class warfare that lends a certain relevancy to the events. Plus the usual media commentary blah blah blah. The Hunger Games is a decent movie. It’s not revolutionary or ground-breaking, but it’s a decent though flawed movie. I’d say “check it out” but the box office returns would indicate you already have…

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